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Saturday, September 4, 2010

The tactical dilemma.

In all games, there are rules. Unless you've been granted an explicit exception, you must follow the rules as they are written, or you're playing wrong at best, and cheating at worst.Far disconnected from reality, inside the wild and wacky world of warhammer 40,000, the rules dictate that all armies must contain a minium of one HQ and two troops. Fair enough. Sure sounds easy. Let's see what we've got to pick from for our troops.

Scouts have poor stats, don't get transports, can only take melta on the sergeant, and if he takes melta, the squad doesn't get a flamer. No, thanks. Next!
Tactical marines cost more, but get all the things that are powerful in 5th edition. "Define 'cost more,' please." I think you should sit down.

10 tactical marines, mounted in a rhino, geared out with a flamer and a multi-melta, cost 205 points. This is a ridiculous sum of points for a single squad of troops.However, since this is indeed a boatload of points, let's take a closer look before we dismiss them completely. Maybe we're missing something.

So we get a multi-melta, which is a very nice thing to have. It lets us threaten armor at a maximum distance of 24 inches - lovely, and it's 'free.' We also have a rhino, so the squad can move around, take the intiative, launch attacks, and redeploy. The tacticals also won't die from small-arms, since you need to kill the rhino before you can hurt the squad. Rhinos are cheap, effective, and good, so these are well-spent points.
There's a single 'free' flamer in the squad, too. Because rhinos are good, you can flame from the hatch. Means clustered infantry - say after a tank shock - won't like you. On top of this, there're seven bolter dudes and a 'free' sergeant. As we've established already, bolters are small-arms - toy guns - which are dangerous in your hands. The sergeant can replace his pistol or bolter with a combat implement, which isn't all that interesting or smart, really.

'Free' doesn't mean free, even though the book claims it does. To get the multi-melta and the flamer, you have to add 5 additional marines to the unit, which adds 80 points to the squad's base cost. If you don't buy full ten man units, you only get the standard kit, plus whatever you give the sergeant - who isn't truly free, either.

Let's see if we can beef them up with some options. After all, tactical marines have a very wide arsenal of guns at their disposal, and since they're accurate, we might as well add a second heavy weapo- what do you mean I only get one? That's right. You get one big gun. No, you can't take two specials, either - maximum of one of each type. Well, can we give them better guns, then? The heavy can pick between missile launcher, heavy bolter, multi-melta, lascannon, and plasmacannon, and the special can pack a flamer, plasmagun, or meltagun. Lots of it sounds exciting, but it's mostly useless.

Landspeeders do missiles better, same with hunter-killers. Heavy bolters come on razorbacks, attackbikes, landspeeders, and predators. All of them can move and fire to some effect, unlike tacticals, or get more than one heavy bolter. Lascannons are available in sternguard squads, and they can take two. Plasmacannons should only ever be on venerable dreads, so they (a; get to fire every turn, (b; hit the target, and (c; don't risk killing the firing unit. Plasmaguns belong in command squads, on bikes, and bolted onto razorbacks. One of them has feel no pain, another can move and fire at full effect, and the third is a vehicle, so won't kill itself.

This leaves us with only three actual options. Obviously, the heavy will wield a multi-melta. Why? Despite their high points costs, tactical squads are excellent platforms for this gun, due to their bunker abilities. Since you have to take two squads, you might as well get the most out of them. You also want a flamer, since it costs nothing, and adds lots more anti-infantry from within the safety of your rhino, but upgrading to a meltagun is sometimes nice. Not always, but sometimes.

Bling the sergeant? Probably not. If you decide to give him anything, tack on a combi-melta as well. These always come in handy.

Let's recap.
A legal army must include no less than two troops.
Scouts and tacticals are both bad, but tacticals a whole lot less so.
Thus, we take two squads of tacticals, outfitted as such: 5 extra men, multi-melta, flamer, rhino.

In total, these two troops cost 410 points.
410 POINTS! That's almost a third of many armies.
A 5 man unit of sternguard, equipped with 3 combis and two heavy flamers, mounted aboard a rhino, only costs 195. Sure looks hopeless, doesn't it?

Well, it's not - not really, anyway.
As any true veteran will tell you, this is common and perfectly normal. In fact, there exists a really flavorful and cool nickname for this effect, one that's been passed down through three successive generations of gamers.

We call it 'the tactical tax.'

Each edition, the tactical tax changes, but it never goes away. For reference, during early 3rd edition, the tactical tax was a more humane 192 points, rising to 384 close to the release of 4th, and reduced to 200 once 4th edition was out. You must pay the tax, or you suffer badly during certain scenarios. While scouts were cheap and good during 4th, they were not a substitute for tacticals camping a table quarter with their trusty lascannons and plasmaguns. Under the 5th edition codex, these two expensive tactical squads bring the following to your army: multi-melta bunkers, two durable scoring units, extra flamers, armor saturation, and lots of bolters in case they get dismounted.

If we consider all this, the perceived cost drops from 'ridiculous' to 'bad, but bearable.'

That's the name of the game: bad. Tactical squads are bad. Much like ork boys, regular chaos marines, and thousand sons, they're limited and strangely priced. While the orks can't really shoot or survive any damage, the tacticals do both these, but cost a lot more, and in typical marine fashion, are average in combat, thanks to low volume of attacks. Chaos marines beat up horde units in combat, but can't bunker up, and if you want a unit that beats face, you're not gonna be able to fit them inside a rhino.

So while tactical squads are indeed bad, they're nowhere near useless. Compared to the worst troops in the game (power armor grey knights, noise marines, necron warriors, conscripts, firewarriors), tactical squads measure head and shoulders above. Even in a straight comparison between bad troops (blood claws, chaos marines, penal legion, dire avengers), marines still pull out ahead. The reason for this is very simple: they can do more than one thing, and everything they bring to the table is at least moderately useful. It's very true that dark eldar warriors, tyranid troops, grey hunters, and guardsmen veterans are much, much better troops, but that's because they're good units, while tacticals are bad, and at the end of the day, those units previously mentioned don't even exist in your codex.

Bad by design, it should be noted. GW strictly enforces the 'one special, one heavy,' and with the added requirement to take ten men, it's not likely that tactical squads will become good troops anytime soon.
If they had access to a heavy flamer as their heavy...
If they could take a second special instead of their heavy...
If they could take a second heavy instead of their special...

Lots of 'ifs,' yes? Give it up.
Let go.
It's not gonna happen.

Even if it does, it's a whole edition away, and the tactical squad as it's presented in the codex is what you have to work with.

Due to the fact they're simply not good value for the points, have little presence, only so many multi-melta bunkers are necessary and actually useful, and the simple truth that there are many better units available, it's recommended that you take the two mandatory ones, and stop there. Stacking tacticals is the number one reason new marine players lose so hard. If you let go, and accept the truth, your game and fun will both increase immensely.

The one and only reason you should ever take more than the two mandatory squads is if you're looking to put a lot of plasmabacks on the field. For this, take 5 man squads and the plasmaback. This totals up to 165 points, and spare points should be used to give each sergeant a combi-melta. "Why not take straight up plasmabacks, then?" Because they're not stand-off units, and want to get close to the enemy. Without the presence of bunkered multi-meltas, you're not gonna be able to secure midfield to launch a focused attack.
In short, you need the first one to make sure the other works.

In the next article, we get in for a close-up of the most misunderstood piece of gear in the game.

Ed: running a captain on a bike means you can ignore this whole thing, since his presence means bikes become troops. Nice of me to put it at the end, so you had to read it all, anyway.

25 pinkments:

Lord Zorgatron said...

Tactical Marines are just tragic. It's why, outside of Biker lists, I play Puppies or Angels whenever I fancy some MEQ goodness - Grey Hunters are free of daft restrictions and are much more efficient at mobile fire and torrent assault tactics, and BA Assault Squad can DoA-DS or get a, cheap fast Razorback, a meltagun AND an Infernus pistol. Why pick an expensive unit that, despite it's 'all-purpose' sales pitch, does non of it's multiple roles efficiently save for midfield short-ranged torrent fire? Combat Tactics only barely makes up for this.

GreyICE said...

Can I add that the Gets Hot! rule doesn't scare me? I am not saying Plasma Cannons are awesome and all (A blast weapon that on the roll of a 1 doesn't fire? Thanks) but Gets Hot! on marines means that if a 1/6 chance happens, then a 1/3 happens, the marine dies.

A 5% chance to kill yourself isn't fun, as anyone who played with old critical fumbles can tell you, but it's not exactly the end of the world.

But yeah, the Tactical Tax is just painful. Rarely is so much paid for so little.

BTW, I'm pretty sure that Devs can get a Las/Plas 'back (Long Fangs can), and Dev squads are alright. I mean they're no long fangs, but if you really want some more Las/Plas, I think that's better.

Lord Zorgatron said...

With you on the Plasma Greyice. Trouble with Vanilla Devs is, you pay stupid points for your weapons. BA Devs and Long Fangs are only just usable at their prices.

Jon said...

Reading VT2's article, it seems like he's ignoring the "scoring" aspect of the tacticals. As the first codex out, I'm sure they were still in the "troops aren't as points efficient" mindset like most 4th ed. armies, before they realized that having to have terrible units scoring leads to DAVU and the firewarriors-hiding-in-PF's-fish tactics. Not that I disagree, just look at the expansion of option from tacs to say, vet squads or grey hunters (as mentioned).

Lyracian said...

@GreyICE. It is not the change of killing yourself that makes Plasma Cannons bad in tacticls, it is the the 1/6 chance of not firing. It is just so much less accurate than other templates.

I usually take Missiles as my Heavy for the longer range. At some point I will try out the mulit-melta.

Kris said...

Scout sniper squads seem decent for a change up from strict tacticals. Cheap, good at holding objectives, 2+ cover save most of the time when gone to ground. And while I know they're in no way optimal, I still enjoy running two units of CC scouts in my Shrike list.

I'd also like to put in a good word for the basic HB Razorback. 3 TL-HB shots + transport for 6 guys is not bad for the cost - yes, it can't take out tanks, but that's what the rest of your army is for. Biggest loss is losing a fire point, I think, but at only 40 points I do think it's a viable option compared to the 75 point plas/lasback.

GreyICE said...

@Lyracian - wow, I was totally unaware about that. I definitely didn't mention anything about that in my post. Thank you for the very useful clarification that totally helped me out.

Marshal Wilhelm said...

So when do we get the Marines TROOPS comparo?

Crusaders, Grey Hunters, Chaos, Assault~BA ^^j

Kirby said...

Monday.

Richard said...

What is 'bunkering up' and why can't CSM do this?
Thanks.

VT2 said...

Bunkering is when you pop smoke, move 12 with your rhino, and sit at your destination for the rest of the game, threatening armor with your multi-melta.

It's a very effective thing, but more than two bunkers won't really do much.

Essentially, it gives you great control of the midfield.

VT2 said...

The whole 'must take a lot of troops' is false.
You only need to hold one objective, while all others are contested.

This was highlighted in earlier posts.

Lord Zorgatron said...

I'm no expert Kris, but in my experience camo cloak sniper scouts are inefficient. Low accuracy, low shot output and only effective against low-save infantry - their decent range is let down by a lack of mobility - using scout moves/infiltrate just makes you an easy target, outflanking is worthless - and reliant on cover to equal an ordinary marine in terms of survivability from range. Scouts aren't even as good in combat as Tacs, and that's saying something. For 90 points, I'd actually rather take a basic Tactical squad.

Heavy Bolters Razors don't strike me as too efficient either - at most it's a few kills on a light infantry blob, or a glance on a light vehicle. Nearly double the cost, and you can get a few kills on any infantry unit, penetrate a light take and glance a medium one. I know which one I'd rather have.

VT2 said...

Heavy bolter razors are effective because they're cheap as chips, but there are better things to put on your razors. Still, don't count them out. 40 points for armor 11, 11, 10, 6 man transport with a linked heavy bolter? Nice deal.

Sniper scouts are 0% killy, but decent disruption. Many armies have problems removing them from cover, since they're toughness 4, and have a 4+ armor.
No instant-barbeque from regular flamers.

Lord Zorgatron said...

You make a good point VT. I really hadn't thought about the flamer resistance. I think a larger sniper-scout squad may do better than the basic five-man deal, as they stand a chance of getting a kill on anything stronger than guard, forcing that vita pinning check. Still not a fan of HBs though - a BA Razorback can get a TL Heavy Flamer for the same price, and is much better.

VT2 said...

If you want disruption, take 10 man scout squads, combat squad them, and put all of them on a single piece of terrain.

Remember, you can infiltrate close, and use scouts to get closer.

Pinning is not a reliable thing, but beautiful when it works.

Yeah, I know, but space marines aren't blood angels. We get a cheap heavy bolter instead of a cheap heavy flamer, and have to make do with poor troops, rather than good ones,

Lord Zorgatron said...

Hmm, I can see the use of infiltrate and scout in getting a good piece of cover, but honestly I'd try to keep as much distance with the enemy as possible. I agree about the heavy bolter comment; as I see it, the Razbolter is definitely well polished, if only a turd underneath :P

VT2 said...

The only 'good' configurations are assaultcannon and plasmaback.
Plasmaback is so good, it becomes 'great,' but that's for another article =P

The full package on scouts mean you can set them up close to someone's flank (18 inches away) and move them into some cover.
Now he either deals with them and their rifles shooting his army for the rest of the game, or he moves stuff to engage them. You win either way.
If he moves in some puny, tiny squads to flush them out, you can beat face on them in combat, becase of strength and toughness 4.

Putting scouts too far away make people ignore them. That's not what you want. You want to put pressure, so he alters his plans to get rid of them.
Yes, even if it means the scouts die.

If the opponent end up with russes shooting your scouts, rather than your rhinos, that's great.

Lord Zorgatron said...

With you on the plasma back, and I guess I never thought about scouts that way. I mean, they always struck me as easy to deal with - but maybe that doesn't matter when they're pinning 2 units a turn.

You'll have to explain Assault Cannon Razorbacks (Assbacks?) to me. Is a point of Strength, an extra shot and rending worth nearly doubling the cost? Especially as HBs are overpriced as-is.

Kirby said...

Assbacks (lol) are only good in BA lists. 24" range on slow platforms is not becoming. BA and Eldar can do it because they are fast but SM and SW cannot so LasPlas comes well out in front.

Also scouts are decent torrent units when you chuck in a MotF and heavy bolter scout. 2 2+ blasts is pretty good but fitting in that extra 120 points over the Libby often isn't worth it.

Marshal Wilhelm said...

Kirby:
On AssBacks. Remember when BroLo said of a BT LRC 'don't ever shoot T1, move 12" and Smoke'?

Do you think that is worthwhile of AssBacks?
If your foe comes at you, no need.
If you need to get to the foe;
12" + smoke T1
Then trundle 6" and shoot from there on in.

What do you think?

VT2 said...

Assbacks for regular marines are another stand-off unit.
Just like the melta bunkers, you pop smoke and move 12 the first turn.

Lord Zorgatron said...

I think you guys have a good point on Assbacks. While they are pricy, if you take enough of them and 12"-smoke them first turn, you stand good odds of survival if the enemy doesn't focus on taking them out, then the Cannons act as super HBs or second-rate Autocannons while the squads inside gets busy. If the enemy focus's on them, other elements of your force will be free to run amok. It's elementary choice-forcing I guess.

Still rather have a BA Heavy Flamer though :D But that's because I'm a cheapskate

Kirby said...

It's a lot easier for an opponent to refuse flank you though. Look at Eldar, DE or Tau or BA. They just lol and move away whilst still shooting (or just shoot you). With BA it works because they can move 12" and still fire. For SW/SM stick with Lasplas for expensive RBacks.

Kris said...

HB Backs are good because they're inexpensive. Let's say you're taking 4 razorbacks in your list, which is a not-unreasonable number. That's a 140 point difference between LasBacks and HBBacks, which is practically another unit, like two MM/HF speeders. There's definitely a place for each type.

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